Thursday, May 12, 2016

Debates (1911)

Party News from the February 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Party, being what it claims to be—the Socialist Party—we have nothing to hide. We therefore invite the most searching investigation and fearlessly challenge the most merciless criticism of our opponents; and, conscious of the soundness of our position, the integrity, solidity, and consistency of our organisation, we glory in putting forward our representatives to undergo the ordeal of public debate. Not so, however, is it with other parties. Guilty conscience truly doth make cowards of them all.

In our November issue we struck a somewhat triumphant note, having succeeded in forcing a few of the enemy to toe the line. This, we now fear, has but further frightened those dealers in darkness, for many have cried off.

Two encounters, however, have recently taken place with an Industrialist Unionist at Woolwich, and a Liberal, a Mr. Marlowe Reed (a broken reed) at Wood Green. In each case the plight of our opponent was piteous in the extreme.

A full record of the shifts to which the enemy resort in order to evade our challenge would make an imposing volume, and while providing amusing reading, would furnish further justification of our attitude of hostility. But space allows only a few examples to be given. Remembering the mauling their representatives have already received from our speakers, the gentlemen of the Anti-Socialist Union are becoming as artful in their antics as they are slimy in their statements. Formerly they pooh poohed the idea of debates, but finding their cowardice recognised, their men now glibly throw out challenges, referring any who accept them to their Head Office. Afterwards they boast that no communication has been received. This was tried at Tottenham, but evidence of the delivery of a registered letter being produced, the Anti-Socialist Union woke up. Its next wriggle was to say that if we fixed up a man to represent the Socialist Party, the S.D.P., and the I.L.P., it would be willing to meet him in debate. There will be no debate. Our men are Socialists, and could no more defend the anti-Socialist S.D.P. or I.L.P. than they could defend the A.S.U. itself, and the A.S.U. knows it.

Another brave lot are the North London Tories. A speaker of the North Islington Conservative and Unionist Association challenged us. The challenge was accepted, whereupon their secretary, Mr. Didsbury, wrote repudiating the whole matter, and stating that "if any speaker should at any time accept a challenge for a debate, that will be on his own responsibility, and not of the Association." But where is their union if they cut off their own speakers?

At Tottenham, at a meeting held and addressed by the Conservative candidate for the division, and also addressed by a real, live, noble lord, the chairman accepted a challenge to debate Tariff Reform versus Socialism Our comrade, the challenger, was invited to the platform to confirm the challenge— an invitation he accepted—and the facts were reported in the local Press. Now, however, the Tory party have passed the matter over to the Tariff Reform Working Men's Club. This body claims to be non-political, and cannot discuss Toryism, Liberalism or Socialism, but they are willing to debate Tariff Reform v. Free Trade. They too, funk our challenge.

Clarionettes, and other musical instruments (as friend Dawkins would say), may have heard of Muir Watson, Clarion Vanner. This champion of confusion was tackled at Stoke Newington, and, to evade the ridicule of the audience, finally declared his readiness to defend the Labour Party in public debate with the Socialist Party’s representative. A voluminous correspondence between us, and the Stoke Newington I.L.P. and ; their Mr. Muir Watson, resulted in the I.L.P. (in deference to Mr. Watson) insisting that the debate must be private, and that they must have the right to veto our representative if they think fit. That plumbs the depths of political cowardice.

Another shining light of the I.L.P., Mr. Councillor Ebury of Heckmondwike accepted a challenge to debate, but now states that, as he speaks for his living, we will have to pay him to debate with us, and also pay his incidental expenses.

The above suffice to show the make up of the motley crew of political prostitutes who, exploiting the misery of the poor, fatten by fostering their ignorance. It is up to the working class to recognise the Socialist Party as the only party of Labour ; the party with the courage to seek out and do battle with all sections of the enemy ; the party that with their assistance will chase all opponents off the earth, and gain the World for the Workers.
Alex Anderson

For Richer, For Poorer . . . (1994)

Book Review from the April 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

For Richer, For Poorer: Shaping US-Mexican Integration. By Harry Browne. Latin America Bureau. 1 Amwell Street. London ECIR 1UL. £7.99.

As this small book (128 pages) demonstrates, we are now witnessing the rapid globalization of capitalism. This is particularly noticeable with regard to Mexico and the United States. Whatever the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the US and Mexico are involved in an unstoppable process of economic integration, thus reducing the importance of the Mexican-US border.

More and more American corporations are building factories not only just south of the border, but also in central Mexico as well. The Mexican workers are given a few days training and. inevitably, the turnover of labour is high; but, despite previous assumptions, many Mexicans soon become expert in high-tech processes such as computer production and assembly. And with Mexican workers’ wages around one-tenth of those of US workers in say, Detroit, the employers have not only been able to play one set of workers off against the other, but have shifted production from the north to the south, thus causing unemployment among many US workers. This has caused considerable headaches for the already weakened American unions, mostly affiliated to the AFL-CIO. Unions generally fight a losing battle under capitalism much of the time anyway. Most of the Mexican workers either do not belong to labour unions, or they are enrolled in ones largely controlled by the Mexican government. Either way, this is resulting in increasing profits for American and, to a lesser extent, Mexican companies.

In this book Harry Browne explains the nuts and bolts of the globalization of capital, particularly as it affects Mexico and the United States and. to some extent. Canada and the Pacific Rim countries; and its effects on the producers, the working class of those countries.
Peter E. Newell

Letter to a charity (1994)

From the April 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Socialist sends a personalized reply to one of the 55 charities which solicited him for donations last year.

Nicholas Hinton,
Save the Children

Dear Nicholas,

Thank you for your letter and your request for help. I’ve decided that the best way I can celebrate the 75th birthday of Save the Children is by offering a donation to the Socialist Party.

I should explain. From time to time I've given to Save the Children, and some of the other charities that increasingly demand my support. (I kept a note in 1993 of the number of requests for help I received during the year. It turned out to be 154 from 55 different organizations and agencies). It’s quite clear there is much to do: famine to prevent; children to be saved from death, literally with spoonfuls of sugar; action to be taken to prevent the destruction of the world’s wildlife, its forests, the diversity of plants and animals, pollution to be combatted, the land, sea and air to be protected against rapacious commercial interests; help to be offered to the partially-sighted. the hard-of-hearing, folk suffering from arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, etc; attention to be paid, worldwide, to the needs of the orphaned, the poor, destitute and disadvantaged, those denied elementary human rights, imprisoned without trial, tortured and forgotten.

And this is just the beginning. Faced with cries for help from so many quarters I’m prompted to ask "Isn't there something wrong with a world that regards such problems and calamities as normal? That assumes that war. death and destruction are as natural (sic) as night and day?" And I know the answer.

Certainly there is something wrong. The basis of our relationship with each other and with the world which supports us is flawed. It accepts that making a profit for the few is inevitable and logically prime, even if the consequence is that most of the population of the world must remain forever threatened with poverty, death and disease, and oppression of all kinds; that economic affairs must forever be organized in this way, and the needs of humankind to food and shelter, never mind liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness, must never threaten the interests of the owning class.

But, of course, there is another way: a blazingly simple, self-evident way. We, the majority who produce the profit for the few, can say "no". No more. From here on in we choose, knowingly, to produce and distribute goods and services, co-operatively and harmoniously, in a way that meets human needs.

So from here on in I’m going to resist the heartbreaking appeals that come with most requests for donations to charities. From here on in my time and energy, and my money, will go to the Socialist Party, in the confident knowledge that the only way to create a world fit for children is to proposition its economic arrangements in such a way that the needs of the human race (and the continued wellbeing of the planet which supports us) must replace production for profit with all its inevitable, attendant evils. Why not join me in sending your £10 donation today?
Yours sincerely 
Michael Gill

"Communism" Trades With Capitalism (1973)

From the June 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently trade between Russia and America has grown immensely. In May last year talks were held in Moscow and credit agreements, barter deals and other trade deals are now under way.

The Moscow Narodny Bank has underwritten a recent Ford share issue. Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles has signed a barter deal worth £3,300m. in American fertilizers and Soviet chemicals. Other deals are under discussion and may well be finalized before this appears in print.

Such trade is perfectly natural, ordinary, everyday and unremarkable if you, like us, regard Russia as a state capitalist country, part of the world capitalist system. Socialists have in fact the only analysis of Russian society which fits the facts. The only correct explanation of Russian trade with Western capitalist countries is that Russia is also a capitalist country.

Marx outlined the salient characteristics of capitalism as commodity production and wage labour. These characteristics are just as evident in Russia as in America: a fact conveniently ignored by all those obsessed and enthusiastic supporters of that “workers’ paradise”, that star in the east, who keep trying to demonstrate how different it all is there, “over the rainbow”.

Since Russia is a commodity-producing country, where goods are made for sale with a view to profit, we do not find it surprising that the people who control Russia’s economy discover the usefulness of foreign trade.

Yet their ideology — perhaps this is a euphemism for the mixed-up opportunism and dogmatism which pass for ideology among the readers of Pravda — their ideology lays down dogmatically that Russia has a “socialist” economy and is quite different from capitalism. So how do the Russian rulers themselves explain the existence of trade between the Western capitalist countries and their own “socialist” country?

In Pravda, the official journal of the CPSU, there appeared on April 3rd an article by V. Alkhimov of the USSR Ministry of External Trade. Under the headline A Useful Step he asks: “What is the significance of the [trade and credit] agreements recently concluded between the USSR and the USA?”

Then, fruitlessly poking about in history, he invokes the holy name of Lenin as one who “drew up a broad programme of business collaboration with capitalist countries, including the field of credit transactions”. He bows to the Holy Trinity of Eisenhower, Nixon and Rockefeller, and invokes the august presences of the Chase Manhattan Bank and the Export-Import Bank of the USA as godparents of the new trade, barter and credit agreements — worth, he says, up to $225m.

He further sanctifies these agreements with a quote from Brezhnev (21 Dec. 1972): “The implementation [of the credit agreements] may constitute the basis of large scale, long-term collaboration in this field. Moreover it would also favour an improvement of the political climate between the USSR and the USA, and would facilitate a further advance towards the chief aim of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union — a lasting peace,” (Our emphasis).

Their "chief aim”, in these guarded phrases, is certainly not Socialism or Communism, an end to exploitation through the wage-labour system, and an end to the profit-motive society based on commodity production. For by no stretch of the imagination could it be said that more trade, barter and credit agreements — whether with governments, private individuals or trading combines — have any effect except to promote the interests of capital accumulation.

Exploitation and wage-labour? These will continue in both hemispheres. Commodity production — producing things only when there is a profitable market and not because they are needed? This pernicious prostitution of man’s productive powers will continue unabated. But Socialism, production for use, common ownership, cooperation in place of competition? Not a hope.

V. Alkhimov has nothing to say on this for Pravda’s readers, no statement by Nixon or Brezhnev, Lenin or Rockefeller, and all he himself will venture is a guarded agreement with an inoffensive and meaningless remark by Nixon’s special assistant Peterson. As a peach of a diplomatic platitude it deserves recording: "Trade is the cement which strengthens the normalisation of relations between our countries”.

Business as usual, in short. The Kremlin and the White House have so much in common, so very much.
Charmian Skelton

Poor Little — (1934)

From the November 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1914 it was “Poor Little Belgium.” Now it is “Poor Little Austria,” “Poor Little Hungary,” “ Poor Little Ireland,” according to taste. Fifty years ago it was “Poor Little Bulgaria,” and fifty years before that “Poor Little Italy” and “Poor Little Greece.” It is always “Poor Little” some country or other. “ Poor Little X—, “Poor Little Y—,” or “Poor Little A B C.”

Always there are sentimentalists ready to respond to this trick of personifying countries, ready to give sympathy and assistance to the weak or small nation bullied or downtrodden by the great and powerful. Yet it is all a sham. Countries are not persons, but geographical units of the all-embracing capitalist system of society. In the small, just as much as in the large, there is oppression of the weak by the strong, coercion of the poor and dispossessed by the rich and powerful who control the State, the organ of coercion. Those who help the Austrian State against the encroachments of neighbouring Powers are helping nobody but the Austrian ruling class. Those who strove to “free” Poland from the Powers which had shared its territory, and who gloried in having helped to reconstitute the Polish State were only giving the Polish workers and peasants a different set of masters. Those who fancied they were fighting for “Poor Little Belgium” were only fighting for the interests of the British and Belgian capitalists, which happened at that time to coincide.

The history of the struggles of subject nations to be free is full of the most ironical changes. The victims of one year are the bullies and assassins of the next. Poland, dismembered and annexed by Russia, Germany and Austria, has been re-created under the Versailles Treaty. Now it is the Germans, Russians, Jews and other minorities imploring help and protection against Polish tyranny. Italy, in the 19th century had all the Liberal sentimentalists shedding tears over her wrongs at the hands of the Austrian tyrants. Now Austria, the pre-war Empire itself dismembered, sorrows for her children, tyrannised by Italy in provinces annexed in 1918. For nearly 50 years, from 1871 to 1918, France mourned her lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Now Germany mourns the same reconquered provinces. In 1905 all the Labourites in the world sympathised with “Poor Little Japan” in the war with the great imperialist Russia. Now the same sentimentalists side with “Poor Little Russia” against the big Japanese Bully. Sometimes, as in the case of Saar Territory and Austria, the sentimentalists are divided, or forced to perform a quick right-about-face. From 1918 to 1933 the British “Poor Little Nation” busybodies demanded the right of the populations in Saar Territory and Austria to be united with Germany, and roundly condemned French and British Governments for their alleged opposition. Now that Hitler is in power they are demanding that Austria and the Saar be prevented from joining Germany. Germany, of course, is working the same appeal to sentiment, in the reverse direction, and is asking the German workers to shed tears (and, if need be, go to war) in order to bestow on Saar Territory and Austria the honour and privilege of being restored to the great family of Germans.

It is all a gigantic racket, worked by the forces of capitalism, using muddle-headed sentimentalists as their tools and dupes. When the avowed enemies of Socialism, or its false friends, tell you that Socialists have a hand in this business you will know that they are lying. Socialists are not supporters of capitalist Nationalism anywhere or at any time.

Lord Beaverbrook, who supported the last Great War, is now using his newspapers to popularise the policy of isolation from European entanglements. He says that Britain should never again go to war because of the quarrels of Continental nations. If Germany wants to eat up Austria, Poland wants Danzig, and France wants Saar Territory, let them do whatever they please. It is, he says, none of “our” business. So far so good. Socialists will heartily agree. We can also agree with his ridicule of the contrary position taken up by the Labour Party (which Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers, with studied dishonesty, refer to as the “Socialist Party”). But even so, Lord Beaverbrook's own position is every bit as ridiculous and anti-working class, for while telling the workers not to fight in the quarrels of the Continental Governments, his papers are insisting on the maintenance of a “strong central Government" under British control in India. In other words, English workers should not fight to prevent Austria going over to Germany, but should fight in order to prevent the Indian capitalists from obtaining undivided control in India. Why, Lord Beaverbrook? What does it matter to English workers which group of capitalists gets the loot, the wealth extracted from the exploitation of the workers? It is the job of the workers in each country to deal with the capitalist class in that country. The Indian workers will some day deal with the Indian section as we shall with the English. But Lord Beaverbrook, anxious for the investments of British capitalists in India, in effect wants English workers to fight defending those investments against Indian capitalist interests.

An authority on the subject of small nations is Mr. Vernon Bartlett. Writing in the News-Chronicle on October 5th, he told us all about the Saar, all, that is, except the one thing which really determines the issue. He told us what were the chances of Saar Territory going to France, or Germany, or remaining under League of Nations control. He told us that the French and German Governments are pouring millions of marks into the Saar each month, in order to influence the voting. What he did not tell us was what are the chances of Saar Territory going neither to the Germans, nor the French, nor the League of Nations, but to the population who live there. He left it out, if he thought of it at all, because he knows it is not even dreamed of. None of the interests concerned would permit such a thing. If there were any possibility of the Saarland workers! (and English workers) voting for taking over the mines, land, factories, etc., for the use of the community as a whole, and thus dispossessing the French and German and English capitalists, who own them, not only France and Germany, but the whole capitalist world, including Lord Beaverbrook, would be aghast. Whether in the Saar or in England they would all rush forward to stop such infamy.

The capitalist interests, which use patriotism, religion, national independence, and love of the scenes and traditions of particular geographical areas as a means of provoking national hatreds, are not concerned at all with the interests or convenience of the working class, but only with protecting their own property, markets, investments, and so on. Fighting to gain or protect national independence serves no interest, except that of the capitalist class. It solves no problem, not even that of nationality, for each success by one nationalist movement creates other similar problems. Socialism alone can solve the real problem of the working class, the poverty problem, and will in so doing restore national differences to a position in which they will cease to be a danger to the world.
Edgar Hardcastle

Exhibition Review: The Rhubarb Triangle (2016)

From the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Rhubarb Triangle, Hepworth gallery, Wakefield

In case you have never heard of it, the Rhubarb Triangle is an area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell, where the soils and climate are particularly suitable for the growing of rhubarb. Though much reduced from its heyday in the 1930s, the rhubarb industry is still going strong, and provides one of many examples of locally-sourced food that has been boosted by the celebrity chef culture. Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb has Protected Designation of Origin status from the EU (like champagne and Parma ham), though this is something that growers have to pay for. Much of the rhubarb is grown by small family firms, and the younger generation are often less keen on the backbreaking work involved. A larger company with over thirty workers relies mostly on migrants from eastern Europe, and also welcomes coach tours as a way of increasing interest and profits.

Currently the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield is hosting a display of photos of the Rhubarb Triangle by Martin Parr. These make clear the hard and dirty work that is part of the special techniques required: the plants grow in fields, get the right amount of frost, and are then moved to darkened sheds. Global warming may mean a lack of frost and so disrupt the harvests. There are photos too of the coach tour visitors, and of Wakefield Council’s annual Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb, complete with someone dressed as a stick of rhubarb and walking around greeting the kids.

The exhibition also includes plenty of other examples of Parr’s work, going back a period of forty years. The earliest are in black and white, of chapels in places such as Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. From the 1980s are photos of workers on holiday in New Brighton, which were apparently criticised by some as ‘class voyeurism’, with a successful photographer providing unsympathetic portrayals of less well-off workers. These are perhaps balanced by photos of Tory supporters at parties and celebrating election victories. There is no doubt, though, which set of people look more alive.

Parr’s main interests have been in depicting people at work and at leisure; this exhibition – on until 12 June – provides an excellent overview, and includes some remarkable self-portraits in various guises (and it’s worth checking out 
Paul Bennett

Scotland Yard (1994)

Book Review from the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scotland Yard by Robert Fleming with High Miller (Michael Joseph, 385pp, £14.99.)

Largely based upon material collected for the Channel Four TV documentary series, "Scotland yard", this is not a particularly well-researched. In the main, various senior police officers describe their departments and squads, all of which tends to make the account something of a whitewash.

It is not so much what they say, however, as what they omit. There is not a word about the infamous Stoke Newington "nick"; and the only reference to corruption is the following comment by Commissioner Paul Condon in the Introduction: "There is an awareness that corruption was about . . .  I honestly believe now that that corruption has gone. There may be the odd bad apple, but the feeling that there was a bit of institutional corruption around, that has gone, thankfully". Obviously, Commissioner Condon doesn’t spend a great deal of time in Hackney.

Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, Scotland Yard provides a considerable amount of somewhat superficial detail on, for example, the Fraud Squad. Special Branch and its recent differences with the Security Service (MI5), the Anti-Terrorist Branch, the Royally Protection Branch, the Firearms Unit, the Mounted Branch, and even the Crime Museum and the Metropolitan Police Band.

We are informed that Lady Thatcher regularly has at least three armed detectives with her, and sometimes many more, including a female detective who keeps her revolver in her handbag. And according to Detective Chief Superintendent Bob Potter of "CE“ Squad (SO12 Special Branch), the fascist "Combat 18 is very small" and "they cause no problems". He also thinks that it was unfair to blame the SWP for starting the Poll Tax riot in Trafalgar Square, in March 1990.

For me, Scotland Yard demonstrates not just the size (an organization of 46,000 people) and complexity of the Metropolitan (that is London) Police Service (no longer a Force!), but just how much of it would become unnecessary, and therefore, redundant, in a sane genuine classless, socialist, society of production for use and the satisfaction solely of people’s needs, instead of our present crime-ridden class society. After watching the TV series, Scotland Yard is worth a few hours' read at least.
Peter E. Newell

Obituary: Frank Duncan (2016)

Obituary from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Frank Duncan, a stalwart socialist and a fascinating man. He joined the Glasgow branch in 1944, just after he had played a key role in organising the Glasgow apprentices’ strike. An Apprentices’ Charter, produced by the Clyde strike committee in 1937, had called for apprentices to have day release for technical training and the right to join a trade union. When these demands were flatly refused by the employers, Frank and his fellow apprentices went out on strike. During this period he attended open-air meetings in Glasgow, found the logic of the case for socialism irresistible and joined the Party.

He later became the supervisor of the telephone exchange in Cricklewood, North London and joined Paddington branch. Frank was a great cyclist (taking annual cycling tours of the Canary Islands), a huge enthusiast for brass band music and a regular attender at concerts of many kinds at the South Bank in London.

I first met him in the 1980s when, after a period of inactivity, he threw himself back into energetic activity as a member – and then long-time secretary – of Islington branch. To say that his energy was not easy to keep up with would be an understatement. Frank was someone who was a 24/7 socialist; everything he said or did referred to his deep principles. Everyone who knew him knew what he was all about. He had a great influence on the many young socialists who joined during that period and played a pivotal role in several election campaigns in Islington. His knowledge, enthusiasm and playful sense of humour will be missed.